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Bell named lieutenant governor

Senate Majority Assistant Whip Greg Bell said he was seriously considering retiring from politics when he was approached about the lieutenant governor's job.

"I was wondering, is this the time to buy the travel trailer, make some money and have some fun," the Fruit Heights Republican told the Deseret News hours after being named by soon-to-be Gov. Gary Herbert as his No. 2.

After all, Bell, 60, has held public office since being elected to the Farmington City Council in 1989. He served four years on the council, eight as the city's mayor and is finishing his second four-year term in the Senate.

A lawyer and a real-estate developer, Bell said he was looking forward to focusing again solely on his professional pursuits, as well as his family. The oldest of eight children, Bell remains close to his siblings, and he and his wife, JoLyn, have six children and 17 grandchildren. He also had recently undergone successful prostate cancer surgery.

But then Herbert came calling.

With Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate as ambassador to China, Herbert started searching for his replacement as lieutenant governor in mid-July, making a special trip to Bell's downtown law office to talk about the job.

Bell said he was not interested, at least not at first.

"It's certainly not the remuneration you can make as an attorney," said Bell, who joined a new law firm last fall as a partner. "It just didn't seem like it would fit into my life. And everyone has questions about being a No. 2."

Additionally, Herbert and his new lieutenant governor will face a special election in November 2010 for the remainder of Huntsman's term, then a regular gubernatorial election in 2012.

Still, Bell said, he liked what he heard from Herbert.

"I asked why he would consider me. He said, 'Your integrity,' " Bell recalled. Herbert also said Bell could add to the ticket. "He said, 'I'm what I am. I'm comfortable with what I am, but I'm not everything.' "

It wasn't until Bell spent a weekend talking with family and praying about the position that he said he made his decision.

"All of a sudden, it just clicked and I knew it was the right deal," he said, his voice filling with emotion. "It was one of those things where you just know. … I haven't really looked back."

Herbert had told Bell right away he was on a very short list of candidates and he was seen as the leading choice from the beginning. But Bell said he wasn't absolutely sure he had the job until Herbert called and offered it to him about 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"Don't play poker with this guy," Bell said of Herbert.

At a Wednesday morning press conference to announce his choice, Herbert said he wanted his administration to represent a broader perspective, similar to what he and Huntsman offered. Huntsman, a moderate, used Herbert in 2004 to help balance the party's ticket.

"I'm not looking for a clone of myself. One of me is enough," Herbert said. "I think Sen. Bell fills in my cracks and broadens our ability to represent the people of Utah."

Bell downplayed what is widely seen as his moderate GOP politics.

"I'm a conservative in principle and moderate in tone," he said. "I also have a great respect for people."

He said he opposes gay marriage despite his support for extending benefits to gay and other nontraditional couples. "We need to recognize there are other types of families and different ways of living together. We need to deal with that in a way that makes sense."

Bell said he told Herbert that some of his stands were going to be difficult to explain to conservative voters.

Herbert said he knows he and Bell won't always agree. And while Herbert said Bell won't have to stay quiet in those instances, he will have to support whatever the governor chooses to do.

"When he speaks, people are going to see my mug there," Herbert said. "The buck will in fact stop with Gov. Herbert and I expect all of my administration to support whatever decisions I make."

Herbert said he delivered that message to fellow conservatives who have expressed concern about Bell's positions on some issues.

"For those that agree with me, it was reassuring," he said.

Even Gayle Ruzicka, head of the conservative Eagle Forum that had circulated an alert over the weekend warning that Bell's selection could advance gay rights, didn't criticize Herbert's pick.

Ruzicka said she met with Herbert and Bell on Monday.

"We committed that we would work together on those things we could work together on," she said. "I can't ask for more than that. I felt good about Gary Herbert."

Just what Bell's responsibilities will be in the new administration beyond serving, in effect, as a secretary of state, remains to be seen. A longtime advocate of legislative ethics reform, Bell will oversee state elections including candidate disclosures. One additional duty will be working closely with the Legislature in the coming session, where lawmakers will be forced to deal with more bad news on the state budget.

Although Herbert is scheduled to be inaugurated as governor Tuesday at a noontime ceremony open to the public in the Capitol rotunda, Bell will have to wait to be sworn in as lieutenant governor.

A new Utah constitutional amendment requires that Herbert's choice for lieutenant governor be confirmed by the state Senate. That will likely happen on the Legislature's next interim day, Aug. 19.

Bell won't have to go through a confirmation hearing, however. Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Bell's colleagues already know him.

Herbert said the other finalists for the spot will help the administration by staying in their current roles. His list, which started with 26 names, was whittled to just four.

"It was really tough," Herbert said.

The other finalists were Utah Transportation Commission Chairman Stuart Adams, a former state representative who is expected to run for Bell's Senate seat; Salt Lake Chamber Chief Operating Officer Natalie Gochnour and Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com